September 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


During a summer of crisis, Trump chafes against criticism and new controls (Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker August 31, 2017, wASHINGTON pOST)

Trump chafes at some of the retired Marine Corps general's moves to restrict access to him since he took the job almost a month ago, said several people close to the president. They run counter to Trump's love of spontaneity and brashness, prompting some Trump loyalists to derisively dub Kelly "the church lady" because they consider him strict and morally superior.

"He's having a very hard time," one friend who spoke with Trump this week said of the president. "He doesn't like the way the media's handling him. He doesn't like how Kelly's handling him. He's turning on people that are very close to him." [...]

Meanwhile, people close to the president said he is simmering with displeasure over what he considers personal disloyalty from National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who criticized Trump's responses to a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. He also has grown increasingly frustrated with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has clashed with the president on issues including Afghanistan troop levels, the blockade on Qatar and Cuba policy.

But Trump sometimes defies -- and even resents -- the new structure. He has been especially sensitive to the way Kelly's rigid structure is portrayed in the media and strives to disabuse people of the notion that he is being managed. The president continues to call business friends and outside advisers, including former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, from his personal phone when Kelly is not around, said people with knowledge of the calls. [...]

On Tillerson, Trump has come to see his top diplomat's approach to world affairs as "totally establishment," in the words of one Trump associate. Several people close to Trump said they would be surprised if Tillerson stays in his post past his one-year mark in January. They hinted that his departure may come far sooner, with one describing it as "imminent."

And some who have recently seen Tillerson say the former ExxonMobil chief executive -- unaccustomed to taking orders from a superior, let alone one as capricious as Trump -- also seems to be ready to end his State Department tenure. He has grumbled privately to Kelly about Trump's recent controversies, said two people familiar with their relationship.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Exclusive: Mueller Enlists the IRS for His Trump-Russia Investigation (Betsy Woodruff, 08.31.17, Daily Beast)

Special counsel Bob Mueller has teamed up with the IRS. According to sources familiar with his investigation into alleged Russian election interference, his probe has enlisted the help of agents from the IRS' Criminal Investigations unit.

This unit--known as CI--is one of the federal government's most tight-knit, specialized, and secretive investigative entities. Its 2,500 agents focus exclusively on financial crime, including tax evasion and money laundering. A former colleague of Mueller's said he always liked working with IRS' special agents, especially when he was a U.S. Attorney.

And it goes without saying that the IRS has access to Trump's tax returns--documents that the president has long resisted releasing to the public.

Potential financial crimes are a central part of Mueller's probe. One of his top deputies, Andy Weissmann, formerly helmed the Justice Department's Enron probe and has extensive experience working with investigative agents from the IRS.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Paul Ryan Backs Bill to Give Dreamers Legal Status (Eric Levitz, 9/01/17, New York)

Asked about reports that the president intended to end DACA, which provides people who were brought to this country illegally as children with temporary protection from deportation, the House Speaker told his hometown radio station, "I actually don't think he should do that."

Ryan stipulated that, "President (Barack) Obama does not have the authority to do what he did" when he established the program. But the Speaker suggested that Trump should put humanitarian concerns above legalistic quibbles, until Congress can take legislative action to address the plight of the Dreamers (which is, more or less, exactly what Obama did when he established DACA in the first place).

"These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don't know another home," Ryan continued. "And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution."

There are roughly 800,000 people in the United States who fit Ryan's description. Many work and pay taxes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Racist behaviour is declining in America (The Economist, Sep 1st 2017)

Research by Leonardo Bursztyn of the University of Chicago and colleagues suggests that Mr Trump's November win has certainly helped embolden white supremacists to go public. Before the election, the researchers offered survey participants a cash reward if they authorised a donation to a strongly anti-immigrant organization on their behalf. One group were told the donation would be in complete confidence, while the second group that the surveyor would know about their choice and discuss it with them in a future session. The group told that their donation would be anonymous was more likely to take the reward and authorise the donation than the group who were told their decision would be (comparatively) public. Mr Bursztyn and colleagues repeated the experiment after the election, and the gap between the groups disappeared. 

The researchers report that Donald Trump's election victory did not make participants more xenophobic--but it did make those who were already xenophobic more comfortable about expressing their views without the shield of anonymity. The Charlottesville protest matches that result: racists were willing to march in public, but there weren't very many racists. Only about 500 people were involved and they were rapidly outnumbered by counter-protestors. In Boston, counter-demonstrations to a subsequent "free speech" rally organized by alt-right groups drew at least fifteen times the people who turned up to the rally itself. And while those with racist views may have become freer about expressing them, a recent Marist poll suggests only 4% of Americans say they 'mostly agree' with the white supremacy movement (there is greater evidence of professed racist views amongst supporters of Mr Trump). 

Long-term trends, meanwhile, suggest a decline in both professed racist views and racist acts. On a range of survey measures including reported discomfort about living next to someone of a different race, or opposition to inter-racial marriage, Americans appear far less racist than in the past. Only 4% of Americans supported inter-racial marriage in 1958. By 1997 that was 50%; today it is 87%. Inter-racial marriages climbed from 7 to 15 percent of all marriages between 1980 and 2010. And racially and ethnically motivated hate crimes reported to the FBI fell 48% between 1994 and 2015. Because local law enforcement agencies aren't required to report hate crimes to the FBI and because they can only report to Washington if the crime has been reported to them in the first place, the FBI statistics are a considerable underestimate of the problem. But the trend is still revealing.

One reason for changing attitudes may be greater exposure to positive images of minorities.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Why Western Pennsylvania dirt is used in the infields of most MLB stadiums (Elizabeth Bloom, 8/31/17, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

This is not a story about dirt.

It's actually a story about an old asphalt plant, a set of computers older than the average baseball player and a man who revolutionized an industry he didn't know existed.

OK, and it is about dirt.

But this dirt is special: It starts under the ground in Western Pennsylvania and ends under the cleats of the best baseball players in the world.

"Most people have no idea that the infield mix for Major League Baseball, from San Diego to Boston, comes from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania," said Grant McKnight, president and founder of DuraEdge. [...]

[T]here's the "completely dumb luck" that McKnight happens to be from Western Pennsylvania, whose clay, he insists, is special.

"Not all dirt is created equal," McKnight said. "It's a very, very unique mineral."

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Was Charles Darwin the true father of eugenics? : His mad, bad, dangerous theory of evolution would profoundly influence Hitler, according to A.N. Wilson (Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, 2 September 2017, The Spectator)

[T]he theory quickly outstripped his scientific data, and instead became a grand narrative seemingly capable of explaining the entire history of life on earth.

Seen through Darwin's eyes, suddenly the world looked very different. Birdsong was no longer an innocent celebration, but a set of warnings and sexual invitations; flowers were no longer cheerful splashes of colour in the landscape, but hostile organisms engaged in a turf war. Wherever you looked, different life forms were part of an endless struggle for survival. The only problem, Wilson points out, is that this was a myth.

The fossil record and recent DNA discoveries indicate that evolution does not proceed through infinitely small gradations; rather nature makes sudden leaps. Nor does progress depend only upon selfishness and struggle. Collaboration is just as important as competition: 'Ants don't build anthills by fighting one another; nor bees hives.' And it turns out that the same is true of evolutionary theory itself, for although Darwin's was the name that became attached to the idea of species evolving through their adaptation to environment, this was the result of co-operative scientific efforts that could be traced back to his grandfather Erasmus Darwin and beyond. [...]

The picture of Darwin that emerges from this biography is a mixed one. On the one hand, he spent most of his adult life as a martyr to symptoms that ranged from eczema to flatulence, and he was patiently looked after by his wife Emma, or 'Mammy' as he liked to call her, as if she hadn't so much married him as adopted him. On the other hand, he assumed that men like him were naturally superior, not only because of their wealth (an immensely rich father and marriage into the Wedgwood family meant that Darwin never had to earn a living) but also because of their race, expressing his relief that 'civilised nations are everywhere supplanting barbarous nations'. He was an unsentimental believer in Malthus's theory of populations regulating themselves through famine and disease, but was devastated when his ten-year old daughter Annie died of tuberculosis. And as his religious faith slowly slipped away, so he developed a theory that would later become a substitute religion for many. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


Mexico, Canada to stay in NAFTA even if U.S. leaves: minister  (Reuters, 9/01/17) 

Mexico and Canada would remain in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) even if the Trump administration abandoned the accord, Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Thursday.